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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Hotel pulls plug on controversial child pageant

But pageant bosses vow to stage the event elsewhere

Eden Wood, America's most famous child pageant starlet
Eden Wood, America's most famous child pageant starlet
Eden Wood (7): pageant and reality TV star in the US

By Conor Feehan and Luke Byrne

A north Dublin hotel has pulled out of hosting a controversial children’s beauty pageant this weekend.

The four-star Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan last night rowed back on its original plans to host the event, claiming the organisers had not identified the true nature of what they were planning to stage.

But Universal Royalty beauty pageant bosses plan to stage the event this weekend despite the hotel’s u-turn. Owner Annette Hill said: “You better believe there’s going to be a pageant.’

‘You’d better believe we’re going to have a beauty pageant’

The decision was welcomed by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.

Speaking on Morning Ireland this morning, Ms Fitzgerald said such contests were highly inappropriate for young children.

“In my view, it’s inappropriate sexualisation of very young children.

“And I welcome what the hotel has done.

“Obviously all children play at dressing up, that’s quite a contrast to the sort of dressing up that we see at these pageants.

“The amount of heavy make-up, the high shoes, the frilly dresses, in appropriate of a child of three, four or five,” she said.

A hotel representative said in a statement: “An event of this nature is not in keeping with the family ethos of the business. The Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan has today cancelled a booking made by the organisers of the Universal Royalty competition to stage their ‘beauty pageant for babies, toddlers and teens', on Saturday next, September 21.

“It is understood that the organisers deliberately went to great lengths to keep the venue secret, and had taken the precaution of booking two reserve venues for their event,” the short release ended.

The hotel declined to comment further, but sources say the booking was simply for an ‘event’ and was made by phone.

However, the Universal Royalty pageant confirmed that the event would be going ahead and told the Herald “you better believe we’re going to have a pageant”.

Pageant boss Annette Hill had taken the precaution of pre-booking two more secret venues in case her preferred venue fell through.

“Anybody who thinks the pageant isn’t going ahead would want to look up the name and research Annette Hill,” she told the Herald.

Shocked

“I’ve come to Ireland to have a pageant and you better believe we’re going to have a pageant.”

Ms Hill said she was shocked to find out late on Thursday night that the Bracken Court Hotel was going to cancel.

“They gave me their word and gave the pageant their blessing and then all of a sudden decided it wasn’t going ahead,” she said.

“I have parents from all over the world who were supposed to be coming to the pageant.”

However, the organiser would not reveal the exact location of the new hotel but confirmed it would be in Dublin.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout, the former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, told the Herald that she is “happy that common-sense has prevailed” after the hotel cancelled the event.

“I know that many hotels have turned down this pageant, and it is hard for hotels to turn down business, but I am concerned that the organisers of the event have said they have alternative venues lined-up,” the Senator added.

“There is no place in Ireland for child beauty pageants. They are nothing but the early sexualisation of children and we should be protecting childhood here in Ireland.”

Universal Royalty planned the competition, which was to feature ‘babies, toddlers and teens', on Saturday.

Universal Royalty boss Annette Hill had taken the precaution of booking two reserve venues, in case the first-choice Irish-owned Moriarty Group hotel fell through.

Ms Hill is due to appear on The Late Late Show tonight with eight-year-old Eden Wood, America's most famous child pageant starlet.

Eden was due to take part in a meet-and-greet with fans at the Bracken Court venue tomorrow morning, as well as giving pageant coaching to budding Irish starlets.

Despite the growing controversy surrounding the contest, the hotel's general manager, Rory Keogh, earlier this week said he saw “absolutely no problem” with staging the competition, which over 50 Irish youngsters have been signed up to compete in.

“As long as the event is run professionally, which I'm sure it will, we've absolutely no problem with it,” Mr Keogh had said. “And if it all goes well, they will be welcome to come back next year,” he had added.

But late last night the hotel did a U-turn on hosting the event, claiming details of it being a children’s beauty pageant were not disclosed to them.

On Wednesday, the families of all the youngsters taking part, including some from the UK and Australia, were informed by email of the Bracken Court venue, which is in the heart of Balbriggan.

Contests

Since the staging of the event was first announced earlier this year, children's watchdogs have voiced their concerns about the early sexualistion such contests have on the young participants.

Organisers behind the American-style child beauty pageant previously said they received strong support from the Irish public. And they had plans to turn it into an annual event.

Businesswoman Annette Hill found the interest in the pageant remarkable but admitted it may be due to Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant featuring on the US TV show on TLC - Toddlers & Tiaras.

cofeehan@herald.ie

Online Editors

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